- This article is about helicopters in general. For helicopters assuming the "Helicopter" name, see Helicopter (disambiguation).
Helicopters are recurring aircraft first introduced in Grand Theft Auto 1 as non-controllable vehicles, and available as controllable vehicles since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Helicopters complement fixed-wing aircraft, and possesses advantages and drawbacks. Due to similar attributes, gyrocopters such as the Little Willie are classified under this article, although both the helicopter and the gyrocopter fall more accurately under the rotorcraft category.
Helicopters are vertical take-off aircraft which utilize one or more horizontal rotors to control height and one tail rotor to stabilize the aircraft from spinning out of control from the force of the horizontal rotor(s). As a result of its construction, helicopters are more capable of executing vertical takeoff and landing, as well as hovering in the air, but is slower in speed than fixed-wing aircraft as horizontal movement is dependent on the tilt of the vehicle rather than the propulsion of the rotor.
The player can control the speed of the rotor using the acceleration and brake command, while banking, which requires the use of both the steering commands for side banks and two sets of directional commands for forward/backward leans and turning. Since GTA Vice City, helicopters in GTA typically support between one to four occupants.
With its rotors fully exposed, the blades of the helicopter itself can be effectively used as a weapon against any person on the street, killing them instantly on contact, but requires risky controlling of the aircraft. Games prior allow only the horizontal rotor to inflict such damage, while helicopters in GTA IV allow the player to kill using the tail rotor as well. Mounted weapons may also be available on certain models, including the Sea Sparrow, Hunter, Annihilator and Buzzard.
Helicopters can sustain damage and crash or explode as a result. The earliest known helicopter to possess this weakness are the Police Helicopter and Helicopter in Grand Theft Auto III, which are vulnerable to gunfire or a rocket launcher. By the time helicopters were controllable in GTA Vice City, helicopters may also suffer damage from impact on hard surfaces (with the exception of landing) or other solid objects, and seize to function outright in water if they do not have pontoons (i.e. the Sea Sparrow). The degree of damage on a helicopter is only indicated by the presence of smoke or fire appearing from the horizontal rotor. The system remains unchanged until Grand Theft Auto IV.
In GTA IV, the damage mechanics of helicopters has been improved greatly. If the helicopter blades hit a wall too much, the blades will be ripped apart and the helicopter, devoid of its ability to maintain lift, will fall, either inflicting damage or killing the player. Also, the entire tail boom can snap off if the player strikes it against a building or barrier with enough force. With the tail boom destroyed, the player has no control over the helicopter except for the altitude. As in real life the tail rotor is used for stabilizing the helicopter by providing a force against the rotational force of the main rotor as well as rotating the helicopter through the use of the rudder pedals, in GTA IV (and real life), the lack of one causes the helicopter to spin in circles rapidly. While in a helicopter, beeping can be heard once the helicopter sustains too much damage. If the helicopter sustains more damage after the beeping alert is heard, it can either explode (which will be evidenced by the engines being on fire) or the tail boom will break off. Also, though hard to make happen, instead of the entire tailbroom being severed, the tail rotor may shatter, resulting in the same realistic spin effect. There is also one type of damage that does not happen that commonly. After the chopper has sustained enough engine damage, the engine cuts out, leaving the player to glide, but apon impact the player loses health.
The weather has a noticeable affect on helicopters in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories and Grand Theft Auto IV. In windy or rainy conditions helicopters will bank and sway in the direction of the wind, which makes flying at low altitudes dangerous. Players can avoid impacts with buildings and trees by having a high altitude, where there is plenty of room to maneuver back into position.
In addition to regular civilian transport helicopters, military attack helicopters are available, equipped with armed weaponry since Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. Attack helicopters, however, aren't as easily obtainable, as they'll either be inside a military base or another restricted area or will need a certain task to unlock them outside of the areas. An example of an attack helicopter is the Hunter. Attack helicopters are very useful but will most often earn the player a wanted level when destroying a vehicle. In Grand Theft Auto IV there are 2 attack helicopters; the Buzzard and the Annihilator.
- In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, if a helicopter is flown over a no-fly zone such as Area 69 (or the Easter Basin Naval Station before completing Vertical Bird) and a Surface-to-Air Missile is fired at, the helicopter will rapidly beep as a missile warning sign. (This applies to planes as well.)